Here are the stage-setting readings and videos I use to kick off my intro biostats course. I want to give the students an engaging overview of what statistics is all about. I also want to get them thinking about how statistics connects up with their other biology courses, and with their lives. These readings and videos are an optional-but-strongly-encouraged supplement to my intro lecture.
David Vaux: Know when your numbers are significant. Overview of basic concepts of descriptive statistics and null hypothesis testing, aimed at biologists.
Amelia McNamara: Do you know nothing when you see it? Covers the same broad territory as Vaux’s piece, but in the form of a video. Also goes beyond Vaux’s piece to cover bootstrapping.
Mona Chalabi: Three ways to spot a bad statistic. TED talk by a data journalist. I like this for several reasons. It’s by someone who’s not an academic, and it’s about the use (and abuse) of statistics in people’s everyday lives. I don’t want students thinking that statistics is just for biology research. It engages seriously with, and rebuts, the claim that statistics–all of it–is inherently elitist and misleading, just a way for the powerful to bamboozle and control the powerless. Also engages seriously with the claim that all statistics are misleading because, by design, they fail to capture the uniqueness of individual lived experiences.
Kieran Healy: The kitchen counter observatory. Covers some of the same territory as the Chalabi video. It’s about how data can bring you closer to, rather than distance you from, the reality of individual human lives. Especially during a pandemic. Also a good piece for letting students know just how much data is available online, for free. And it’s lovely writing.
Andrew Gelman: A world without statistics. Here’s a statistician questioning whether statistics is actually all that important in the grand scheme of things. My hope is to surprise students a little, and so get them thinking, by giving them a contrarian piece from an unexpected source.
Joel Cohen: Mathematics is biology’s next microscope, only better; biology is mathematics’ next physics, only better. Not just about statistics, though statistics figures into it. Good contrast with the Gelman piece. I like giving the students readings expressing a range of different (and sometimes conflicting) views.
Ben Bolker: Other people’s data. This one probably resonates the least with undergrad students in intro biostats, because it’s aimed at Ben’s fellow quantitative ecologists. But I think it’s a good complement to the Cohen piece, because it’s about the human side of doing statistics (and other sorts of math) as a biologist.
Anyway, those are the pieces I use at the moment. But there’s a whole world of material out there, most of which I’m unaware of. So what readings, videos, or other materials do you use to kick off intro biostats? Looking forward to your comments.